Some two million Indians watch live TV on their mobile phones or notebook computers (using wireless modems). Yes, two million a day, on the slow-as-asnail phone networks. Powering that is Apalya Technologies of Hyderabad that is fast grabbing attention among start-up circles. (We thought it cool enough to include it in our 2010 listings even though it is older than three years.)
The story of the two engineers behind Apalya, Vamshi Reddy and Shive Bayyapunedi, with work experiences spread over Cisco, AT&T, Wipro and Nokia, is classic start-up lore. When the college classmates from Amravati got together in late 2005, they had a few years of experience, no connections to venture capitalists and knew no one in the telecom industry.
Apalya today has 13 mobile telephony firms as its clients, and 40 TV channels at the other end. It powers TV solutions of mobile broadband services such as Tata Photon, Reliance NetConnect and MTS. This, coupled with the recent Indian Premier League, where Apalya won the global rights to broadcast the cricket extravaganza on mobile devices, saw it double its active subscriber base in just three months.
Getting Apalya up and running took a while, though. India has one of the most heavily used airwaves in the world and rapidly declining call rates mean that people were crowding the spectrum. How could TV signals be sent through such congested airwaves? Apalya's solution: Improve the video compression, but slightly reduce the frame rate. This might make it slightly choppy but is good enough for most users and ideal for operators. Bangalore's July Systems has a solution that optimises viewing video clips but not live TV.
By mid-2007, Apalya had a working solution for TV clips that it tried out successfully with Idea Cellular in Maharashtra. For phone firms, TV is another way of increasing average monthly bills, by way of a subscription fee and higher data use.
Apalya runs the risk of running into broadcast technologies such as MediaFLO and DVB-H that deliver video to mobile phones but Bayyapunedi is not worried. "Our solution is something operators can deploy quickly and inexpensively," he says. It also helps that Qualcomm, one of Apalya's main investors, owns the MediaFLO technology.
FOCUS: Mobile TV Solutions
FUNDING: Mumbai Angels, IDG Ventures India, Qualcomm
ADDRESSABLE MARKET: About 100 million phones, notebook computers in India
CUSTOMERS: 13 mobile phone firms in India
BREAK EVEN BY: 2011
BIGGEST RISK: A new technology or television broadcast system